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Follow the paper trail to find Colonial American ancestors

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Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck has one important piece of advice for researching Colonial American ancestors – find every document for every ancestor in their lifetime.

Bockstruck presented a workshop on finding overseas origins of American Colonists and immigrants at the Fort Worth Genealogical Society summer seminar. He went through a long list of steps and resources to locate these all-important pieces of paper.

The first three steps are to identify the ancestor in question, search all original source materials for the locality and the era in North America where the ancestor lived, and determine the ancestor’s national origin. Bockstruck recommends using these resources for research:

  • Reference works on surnames and forenames
  • Passenger arrival lists
  • Denizations and naturalizations
  • Probate records
  • Land records
  • Military and pension records
  • Court minutes
  • Newspapers
  • Vital statistics
  • Diaries, journals, correspondence
  • Genealogical literature
  • International Genealogical Index
  • Alumni registers
  • Occupational records
  • Biographical directories of colonists
  • Church records
  • Manuscript collections

Bockstruck also pointed out certain words on documents that may provide clues.

  • Gentleman: Was of noble birth, belonged to landed gentry or had aristocratic family ties
  • Mister or Mr.: Was a gentleman, an office holder or member of clergy
  • Clark or clerk: Usually associated with clergy and was educated

Bockstruck said the value of church records could not be emphasized enough.

“Know how to mine church records,” he said. “Those who came to the American Colonies were suspect and they had to be verified and cleared by a church when traveling.”

He also told attendees that no church should be overlooked.

Quakers were the third largest denomination during the American Colonial era, so you may have Quakers in your family and not know it, even if you don’t have any Quakers today,” he said.

Genealogists should also read the journals of well-known historical figures. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson kept detailed journals and correspondence. They may mention people they did business with or socialized with and one of these people may be a genealogist’s ancestor.

“That same research technique can be used anytime, anywhere,” Bockstruck said. “Abraham Lincoln’s documents may help someone in Illinois and Stephen F. Austin’s documents may help a genealogist in Texas.”

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